What about subplots?

Creating a good plot is essential to screenplay writing, or any other type of fiction.  The plot is what drives the story forward. While subplots are a common element used in screenwriting, they can be risky if they are not used properly.  Aristotle maintained that a perfect plot has a single issue, and that subplots are the sign of bad writing technique (Tierno).  So, if this is true then how have subplots become so predominant in screenwriting today?  It is imperative that a writer choose one external conflict and a subplot must be a part of that conflict.  For a subplot to work, it must carry the theme of the main action.

In order to establish whether a subplot will work or not, the writer needs to have an understanding of what a subplot really is.  Some writers actually call subplots the “A” and “B” story, but either way; a subplot is an extension of the main theme.  In other words—subplots are always somehow connected to the main plot.  These secondary storylines must enrich, or bring life to the main plot, and they will always help the protagonist in his or her journey toward resolve.  For example, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the central theme is developed around Hamlet’s crazed revenge of his father’s death, and his actions are a result of his need for revenge.  There are two subplots in Hamlet: The war with Norway and Ophelia’s relationship to Hamlet.  Shakespeare reveals Hamlet’s want in the first act, but complications occur in act two when Hamlet shows up in Ophelia’s chamber in complete disarray after Ophelia has just learned that he is loosing his love interest in her.  Ophelia is not overly surprised, because she is aware of his confused mental state.  The plot thickens when Ophelia shares about Hamlet’s sudden visit with Polonius:


O, my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!


With what, in the name of God?


My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,

Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;

Ungarter’d, and down-gyved to his ancle;

Pale in his shirt; his knees knocking each other;

And with a look so piteous in purport

As if he had been loosed out of hell

To speak of horrors, — he comes before me.


Mad for thy love?


My lord, I do not know;

But truly, I do fear it.

(Shakespeare, 2:1)


In the above scene, Shakespeare uses Ophelia’s character to create conflict and further establish the question of Hamlet’s sanity.  It is important to note the Ophelia and Hamlet have been life-long friends, so for her to “fear” his love, and have this kind of intense concern, it is somewhat disquieting.

In an article written by Amanda Mabillard, which is posted on Shakespeare Online, she says, “There are three plots in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: the main revenge plot and two subplots involving the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia, and the looming war with Norway.”  Shakespeare uses the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia to highlight a different aspect of the one external conflict—Hamlet’s settling of scores.

Everyone loves a good romance story, but the supposed romance between Hamlet and Ophelia turns sour.  By the third Act, Hamlet verbally assaults her, wounding the poor young maiden’s heart and rendering her hopelessly insane; she drowns in Act four. Laetres blames Hamlet and vows revenge.  Shakespeare uses the actions of these characters to continue create tension in the story and to enhance Hamlet’s disposition and emphasize his off-kilter state-of-mind.

For a subplot to work effectively, additional characters must remain central to the primary plot. In Sylvester Stallone’s famous screenplay Rocky, the main plot is the fight.  Where Hamlet’s motive for action was the revenge of his father’s death, Rocky Balboa’s motive for action is the big fight.  Rocky’s relationship with his manager and his wife are a way for the author to introduce different points of view, while supporting the plot and driving it forward.  The relationships that Rocky has with these two characters help to create secondary plots.  They do not take away from Rocky and his goal, but add a sense of depth to his character and bring humanness to Rocky.  For example, Rocky’s trainer Mickey sees potential in the young 25-year-old fighter, but throughout most of the screenplay, there is a lot of friction between Rocky and Mickey. Stallone wittingly uses this resistance between the two characters to produce the wanted results in the end…Rocky will fight.  Note the following excerpt from a scene between Rocky and Mickey:


Ya want the truth – Ya got heart, but ya fight like an ape –

The only thing special about you is ya never got ya

nose broke – – keep ya nose pretty – -what’s left of ya

brain an’ retire.

ROCKY [ignoring his comment]

Listen, I’m gonna take a steam – –

Did good last night – – Shoulda seen it.

MICKEY [ignoring Rocky’s comment]

Hey, ever think about retirin’




…Think about it.


The above scene is good psychology.  Mickey knows that if he can get Rocky mad enough he will step up to the plate and give his all, and then he will have a good chance fighting in the fight that will land him the title.  Stallone uses Mickey like the sound of a nail against a chalkboard.  This trainer wants to get under Rocky’s skin and push him on the journey toward his goal—the fight.  In the final scene, Rocky makes it to the fight, and Stallone pulls the stops out as he keeps the audience/reader suspended in thin air and he is going for the heavyweight title against the undefeated Apollo Creed.  When everyone expects Rocky to ultimately win, Stallone pulls a fast one –it’s a “split decision!”


Ladies and gentlemen – We have a split decision!

ANOTHER ANGLE Apollo did not expect this and tenses.  His corner nervously tries to reassure him.  It does no good.  ANOTHER ANGLE Rocky did not expect this either and looks in confusion at Mickey, but Mickey is frozen with anticipation.


Judge Walker scores it eight- seven Creed…

Judge Roseman scores it eight-seven Balboa(…)

winner and still Heavyweight Champion of the

world, Apollo Creed!

Keep in mind that the goal is the fight, and even though Rocky technically loses, his loss

makes the audience/reader love him all the more.  Mickey’s response to Rocky after the

winner is announced is not only touching, it also adds a sense of humanness to their

relationship.  In almost father-like fashion Mickey affirms to Rocky his admiration as he

says, “I don’t care what they say, you’re a winner.”

Subplots are not additional obstacles randomly thrown into a screenplay;

they reflect the central conflict of the main plot.

For screenplay coaching and/or editing:  carlaiacovetti.com

Other references: WriterDuet.com – Screenwriting online…it’s easy, SSL secure and free!



What’s the point?

POV stands for “Point of view,” and is used to designate that the audience will see something from a specific angle or through a particular character’s eyes. It allows the reader/audience to understand how a character perceives or approaches a situation. The POV of a character is usually conveyed with a description of what the character is seeing and experience through dialogue and action.

You can write a scene with identical dialogue, but with a different point of view—in other words, by adding a description, you reveal the character’s mood, heart/emotion.

(Example #1) MAGGIE glares.

(Example #2) MAGGIE glares, shocked and angered.

Do you see the difference? How does example # 2 bring the character’s POV to life?

In the second example, we are not just seeing Maggie glare/stare at something. There is obvious shock and anger, which could easily be revealed with body language, and in the way the character responds emotionally.

From this POV, the audience is going to see something from Maggie’s eyes.

Here’s another scene idea:

Maggie hovers outside a room eavesdropping on a conversation. We want her outside the door overhearing “something…” If you’re writing from the POV from a person inside the room, you would need to start the scene inside the room, and then have Maggie enter.

POV Character is the focal point of the particular scene. Typically, it’s a good idea that it be the character with the most to lose, or the higher stakes to play.



The pub is dim, and Mark sits in the corner at the bar next to a drunken businessman watching Shelly and a BIKER—a heavily tattooed, drunk, obnoxious guy in his late 30’s, lean over a pool table bickering about the rules of the game.


The audience is yet to discover that Mark is a pool shark, and he’s about to give these two a fast course in pool playing. Naturally, this will invoke conflict, because the Biker is into Shelly.

The camera is going to film that little scene from Marks POV. If it were from the Biker’s POV, Mark wouldn’t even be in the equation. We would only see the tension building between Shelly and the Biker.

This is part of the beauty of writing from a POV.  If the camera just dropped into the middle of this scene, not focusing on anyone’s perspective, the dramatic tension would not be nearly as strong when Mark confronts the Biker and starts to show them how it’s done.  Think about it…because this scene will be shot from Marks POV, it will give way to rising action and allow for greater conflict in the story.

We all have a point of view, right? This is part of human nature. That does not necessarily mean it’s correct, but it’s our POV. It’s the world as YOU see it.

Mark knows how to play pool, and he knows it well, so the way he views the scene between Shelly and the Biker is going to be very different from the way the guy sitting next to him at the bar does. The drunken businessman who is sitting next to him could care less about pool.

Question? Is Nora Ephron’s screenplay, Julie & Julia written from Julie’s POV?

Fun Trivia:

Here’s an excerpt from Emmy Award-winning interview host Charlie Rose’s interview with Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron.

Charlie Rose [to Streep]: If you have someone so pronounced in size and personality, in voice — distinct and different, easier to do, or harder to do? What were you trying to capture when you played her?

Meryl Streep: The outlines [of her character] were very familiar to people —
I knew that, and to me too, but in a way Danny Ackyrod’s version was even more vivid in our minds, and so it was already kind of already caricatured in your head. I wanted to look at her in the idealized way that Julie did, because this is Julie’s *imagined* Julia. [Emphasis in Streep’s own voice.] In her head, [Julie] imagines this gal in Paris with her husband. And I think because it’s in this roseate hue, I just wanted to make it as real as it could possibly be, but I didn’t feel that I really had to adhere to every piece of research I’d done on Julia. I just wanted to make a human being that lived.

Ephron: There’s no question that the Julia we show in the movie was Julie Powell’s idea [of her].

Streep: You never really know the ins and outs of a personality…but to imagine that you know the inner life and conflicts and anxieties of a public person, it’s very very difficult, but it’s endlessly interesting. [end]

So, I do think Julie & Julia is largely written from Julie’s POV.



Connecting the dots between every action

I read a great book a few months ago–a technical (don’t freak-out at that word) manual for reading plays, actually.  The book is called, Backwards & Forwards by David Ball.  Even though this is technically guide to play-reading, it is a great source for analyzing and reading scripts.  After all, whether you are a playwright or a screenwriter, we all at some level embrace similar elements of structure and look at the interpretation of such…

Ball takes you from point A to B, connecting the dots in-between… and a play (or screenplay) is ACTION–action that is both connected and progressive.

Let’s think about connected action.  What do I mean by that? 

Let me use an example:  John came home from work tired and hungry, but instead of immediately going to the kitchen to make something to eat, he walked over to the couch, plopped down and turned on the TV.  Not 3 minutes into a Bud-lite commercial John began to snore and shortly thereafter, he was drooling like a Saint Bernard.  While snoozing, John wasn’t thinking about his hunger.  HOWEVER, when John woke up nearly 3 hours later, it was approaching 9 p.m.  He was past the point of being hungry, he was ravenous!  So…

John went into the kitchen, opened up his refrigerator, which had 3-day old pizza (uncovered), a 6-pack of Bud Lite, minus one beer, a jar of pickles, an essentially empty bottle of ketchup, expired slices of American cheese, Cesar salad dressing (no lettuce), and old orange, and a bag of soft apples.  Flustered, John shut the refrigerator door, and walked over to the pantry.  The pantry didn’t have much going on there either.  An empty box of microwave popcorn, 2 more 6-packs of Bud Lite, a can of corn, a can of green beans, an opened box of instant mashed potato’s, a huge bag of Kibble, and a half-opened stale bag of Frito’s.

Now what?  John’s hunger will push him into action.  He’s going to In-N-Out Burger and grab a Double Double, an extra large Coke, and a large fries.

In a play or screenplay, one action deserves another, and good writing connects those dots.  Ball says, “An event without an outcome is not an action.”  Unconnected events in life and on the screen are irrelevant!

So, part of a writer’s writing responsibility is to WEED-OUT unrealistic scenes.

Ball suggests that we look to the thing that happened preceding the action.  In other words, what transpired before John got in his car and drove to In-N-Out Burger?  He calls these TRIGGERS.

When writing a screenplay, it is imperative that ACTIONS evolve out of what happened prior.  These REACTIONS take the story forward.  You need to connect the dots between every ACTION.

For Script Analysis & Coaching: carlaiacovetti.com

Screenwriters & Actors Unite: Bringing Your Screenplay to Life


Hey everybody!  I want to share a new program online that enables you to “listen” to your screenplay being read!  That’s right!  You can sit back and envision your work, as you listen to your script come alive!

This is a collaborative work between you the writer and actual actors who will be using their voice (s) in dialogue, while the directives and descriptions are read too.

The founder, Guy Goldstein is a screenwriter and software programmer, and he developed this program as an aid for writers to listen to their screenplays.

ReadThrough.com supports:  PDF, Final Draft 8, Celtx, Microsoft Word, Text and more.  Music and sound effects, help communicate the overall feel of a script, so readers and actors can get a better understanding of the storyline.

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Guy Goldstein, please email him at:

I  simply had to share!